No House Here

By Roy L Hales


As you can see from the photo above, construction is proceeding on the house on top of Grace Islet on Salt Spring Island. This is a recognized First Nation’s burial site and it is not known how long construction will continue. The 13 municipalities in the Capital Regional District passed a resolution condemning the desecration of a sacred site and requested that BC’s Archaeology Branch rescind the permit allowing construction.  Salt Spring Islanders opposed to the building have started a “No House Here” campaign.  Meanwhile a spokesperson from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations said the protests are  being directed at the wrong level of government.

He explained that the Capital Regional District is the authority that allowed development to proceed and “Grace Islet is currently zoned by Salt Spring Island bylaws as residential.”

“Because the islet is an archaeological site, before the developer undertook any work on the site he was required (under the Heritage Conservation Act) to obtain a site alteration permit from the ministry’s Archaeology Branch to control the degree of impact on the site.”

He added that, “Ganges Village itself is a part of the same broader archaeological site that encompasses adjacent Grace Point and Grace Islet.”

It was sold to the present owner in 1990.

Briony Penn & Joe Akerman at Pioneer Cemetery in Victoria
Briony Penn & Joe Akerman at Pioneer Cemetery in Victoria (Click on image to enlarge)

The “No House Here” campaign began at 12:00 today, in Ross Bay Cemetery.

Two of Briony Penn’s ancestors are buried there. Montague Tyrwhitt-Drake is a former mayor of Victoria, who served in the provincial legislature from 1868- 70 and was a Supreme Court Judge after 1883. William Curtis Ward founded the Douglas Lake Ranch.

Penn erected a mock house over their graves in the Pioneer Cemetery.

”Why are my ancestors’ burial grounds protected and those  of my fellow islander, Joe Akerman (Cowichan Heritage), are not?” Penn asks.

Penn and Akerman are urging British Columbians to go to the graves of their own ancestors around British Columbia, write # NO HOUSE HERE on their forearm, take a selfie and send the photo to the provincial government and post on their social media.

Penn said, “the laws protecting Indian Graves were put in place in 1865 and 1867 during my great great grandfather’s time with an Ordinance to Protect the Violation of Indian Graves so why are we still desecrating them in 2014?  First Nation leaders wouldn’t condone building a long house on top of my ancestors so how can I stand by and watch Christy Clark’s provincial government permit a house built on top of theirs?”

Briony Penn, Joe Akerman (saltspring residents) and Adam Olsen (Tsartlip First Nation) and Ryan Painter (Representative for Gary Holman MLA) (Click on image to enlarge)
(L to r) Briony Penn, Joe Akerman (saltspring residents with “#No House Here” written on their forearms),   Adam Olsen (Tsartlip First Nation) and Ryan Painter (Representative for Gary Holman MLA) (Click on image to enlarge)

On Saturday,  July 12, around 90-100 Salt Spring residents gathered in Centennial Park in downtown Ganges. Joe Akermen led a procession along the path to Grace Islet, beating on a sacred drum. It was low tide and they walked across. The protestors strung a line of prayer flags, symbolically connecting Grace Islet to Ganges.

“First Nations people are not relics, they are a resilient living and breathing culture with strong spiritual and cultural links to their ancestors” says Akerman. “Building a house on stilts over these graves would  be wrong and it is wrong what they are doing on Grace Islet and other sites all over British Columbia. The time to end this practice is now.”